By Matai O'Connor of RNZ
Andrew Little has addressed concerns over Rhythm and Vines' going ahead this summer as the traffic light system puts the popular festival in doubt.
Health Minister Andrew Little said on Newstalk ZB the vaccination numbers in Tairawhiti needed to go up - especially for Māori.
"There's a lot of concern in the community at the moment about Rhythm and Vines anyway because people are terrified of a whole hoard of people, a lot of them from Auckland coming down and crowding out a reasonably confined space."
Little's comments come as Tairāwhiti iwi have urged Rhythm and Vines owners and management to cancel this year's festival over concerns it could cause a Covid-19 outbreak in the region.
Last Friday, the chairpersons of Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata and the chief executive of Ngāi Tāmanuhiri met with the chief executive and festival director of Rhythm and Vines Live Nation, Kieran Spillane, and managing director Mark Kneebone to express concerns about the festival.
Te Aitanga a Māhaki chairman Pene Brown said his board had met and was adamant that the festival should be cancelled because of the threat posed by 24,000 festival-goers pouring into the region.
"We are concerned about the additional stress and pressure the festival would place on local health services, shops and accommodation owners who would be on red alert," Brown said.
Rhythm and Vines representatives told the iwi that they were doing everything that they could do to ensure that the event was safe, and were working with health officials and within Government guidelines to meet health and safety requirements.
All people attending the festival will have to be double vaccinated and have a vaccination passport.
Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chairman Selwyn Parata said: "Local iwi have taken the initiative and cancelled annual events such as the Ngāti Porou Pa Wars and Hikurangi Mountain Dawn ceremony, because they believed that was the responsible thing to do and R&V should follow suit."
Parata, who is also the chairman of Te Matatini, the national kapa haka festival organising committee, said that next year's festival had been expected to attract 30,000 performers and spectators if it went ahead in Auckland in February.
But it had been cancelled "because protecting whakapapa, whānau and kapa was the national organising committee's highest priority".
Iwi chairmen were concerned that the region still had a major vaccination challenge, with 75 per cent of the region's eligible population fully vaccinated.
Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust chairman Moera Brown said: "Iwi health providers are working overtime and pulling out all stops to get as many of our people vaccinated and iwi organisations are working with our hapū and marae to prepare them for the arrival of Delta in Tairāwhiti.
"We have concluded that we cannot rely on anyone else; our whānau need to be self-managing and self-reliant."
Brown said that scenario planning for the arrival of Covid-19 clearly showed that the region's hospitals and health services would be under severe pressure.
"A lot of our rural whānau and communities will have to be prepared to look after themselves, as they did in Bola and recent civil defence emergencies."
Tairāwhiti Arts Festival chief executive and creative director Tama Waipara said: "In these Covid times, festivals and events cannot be seen in isolation from the communities in which the events are held.
"The health and wellbeing of communities has to be a key consideration for event organisers, not just the health and safety of festival-goers, performers, and workers.
"It feels like the focus is on Tairāwhiti as a destination not the consideration," Waipara said.
Iwi told the festival organisers that they will struggle to recruit locals to work at the festival, saying that many whānau who had previously worked as R&V security and car park wardens, were saying they would not work on it if it went ahead.
When asked if they had considered holding the event in Auckland or other locations that have a 90 per cent vaccination rate by December 30, R&V organisers said they had made some inquiries but there was no suitable venue that could recreate the unique R&V setting and vibe, and now there was not enough time.
As a result of festival organisers stating that people need to be double vaccinated to attend, 2500 R&V tickets had been refunded.
Slowness in engaging with iwi
Rhythm and Vines chief executive Kieran Spillane told iwi that Live Nation, R&V owners and management were keen to develop an ongoing relationship with the local iwi, admitting that they had been slow in engaging with iwi and a dialogue was well overdue.
Tai Kerekere, Parihimanihi Marae representative on the Te Aitanga a Māhaki board, said their marae and hapū were feeling aggrieved by the lack of a direct approach to them, as mana whenua of Waiohika.
Both parties agreed that the meeting was useful.
"We, local iwi, are obligated to make a stand on the festival, noting the concerns of our whānau, the petitions circulating in the community and our obligation as, mana whenua to protect our lands, our people and our community," Brown said.
A follow-up meeting will be held once the Government has announced details regarding the introduction of the traffic lights and further clarification on "underwriting cancelled events and festivals".
RNZ has requested comment from Live Nation.
Meanwhile, Stuff is reporting that more than 3000 people have signed an online petition urging the organisers of the Gisborne festival to cancel the event because of the danger of Covid-19 being spread in the community.
It comes as the Tairāwhiti District Health Board, which includes Gisborne, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz said last week that while events like Rhythm & Vines were important for her region, the priority was to reach the 90 per cent vaccination rate.
- Additional reporting NZ Herald